Interview with CEO at eRelevance, Bob Fabbio

How do you feel about risk? If you are like most people, you are risk adverse. It’s not your fault, according to Nigel Nicholson (professor of organizational behavior at London Business School), “On average, people avoid risk except when threatened.” Nicholson continues, “The world of hunter-gatherers was complex and constantly presented new predicaments for humans. Which berries can be eaten without risk of death?”

Unfortunately, if you have dreams of becoming an innovator, then you will need to figure out how to get over your genetic predisposition of risk aversion. Bob Fabbio explains, “I don’t think you can be an innovator without taking risk.” 

Leaders don’t just take risks; they take calculated risks. They set the grand vision and move forward deliberately to make the vision a reality. Let’s read about how Fabbio’s leadership took him from selling tires to selling Tivoli Systems to IBM.

So, Bob, what’s your story?

I was raised by working-class Italian American parents in a small town in upstate New York. My parents, who have been married for 61 years, were both college-educated—rare at that time, especially for people of Italian American descent.

Through their example, I learned important values that have stayed with me: work hard, be honest, do the right thing, always find a way to succeed, and more. As a CEO and entrepreneur, these values still guide me, and I try to instill them into the cultures of the companies I lead.

Even as a kid, I was curious and resourceful. 

I always found a way to get what I wanted. At four years old, I sold used car and truck tires door to door for two cents each. I cut lawns and shoveled driveways at 10 to earn money for hockey skates, and I worked two jobs as a teenager to buy clothes, sports equipment, and a car.

I’ve spent my career conceiving big ideas, rejecting the status quo and developing better business solutions with category-creating companies like Tivoli Systems (acquired by IBM), DAZEL Corporation (acquired by Hewlett-Packard) and WhiteGlove Health. 

My hard-working parents and grandparents were role models, and combined with my natural drive, my childhood prepared and inspired me to become the entrepreneur I am today.

Why should leaders lead, and when they do lead, what is their first responsibility?

Good leaders surround themselves with smart people who they know will make the right decisions 80 percent of the time. The 20 percent of the time they don’t, it’s not likely going to be so off that it will kill the company. There is nothing worse than not making decisions, except for making them and not acting on them. A leader’s job is to quickly course-correct when necessary.

How do you make sure that when you are assessing talent, you are not only identifying the ability to do the job but the talent’s capacity to scale and do more?

I learned long ago that identifying the best people for a team is not a matter of checking skills off a list. A culture and values fit is what matters most. But that doesn’t mean just hiring people you know. Instead, find and hire the absolute best out there. This requires asking the hard behavioral questions during and after the interview. Check references. Make sure they will fit and thrive in your culture.

In the competitive market of product creation how do you manage your No’s?”

Don’t spend energy looking over your shoulder. Play offense. Be mindful of your competition, but do not let it dictate how you run your business. Focus on your business and what you need to do to succeed. Let others worry and react to you.

So you have two options — 1. Take the risk or 2. Don’t take the risk. 

By opting for the latter, I can guarantee that you will never be the innovator you have envisioned. Seneca wrote, “You are living as if destined to live forever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply.”

It’s been my experience that those who are risk adverse spend an enormous amount of time waiting for the perfect moment to act on a decision. Unfortunately, by waiting you let critical moments slip by; if you allow too many of those moments disappear what you're left with is a pile of unrealized goals.


Original Post: Huffington Post

Interview with CEO of Capsule Pharmacy, Eric Kinariwala

You have a massive headache perhaps a migraine. You contact your doctor, and he prescribes medication. You stumble to your local pharmacy to pick up the prescription, but it’s out of stock. Unfortunately, the pharmacy is providing little to no support. Making matters worse you call the doctor, to see if there is an alternative, but you can’t get a cell phone signal so out of frustration you head back home.

Unfortunately, that is not just an opening paragraph it’s what happened to Eric Kinariwala. But instead of shrugging the experience off as status quo; Eric got angry, not road rage angry, but what Todd Henry explains as a compassionate anger. Henry describes, “What do you experience that fills you with compassionate anger and compels you to take action? What do you see and think someone should do something about that?

Kinariwala’s compassionate anger gave birth to Capsule Pharmacy; whose mission is to be a better, smarter, kinder pharmacy. Let’s read as Eric explains how his effective leadership is evolutionizing the pharmacy business.

So, Eric what’s your story?

I grew up in suburban Detroit and spent the early part of my career investing in retail, healthcare, and technology companies. I had the good fortune early on to learn and be mentored in the investment business from some of the very best people in the industry.

One morning in early 2015, I woke up with a throbbing headache and that led me to the pharmacy and an awful experience, where everything that could go wrong, went wrong. That experience was the spark that connected so many things and led me to start Capsule. It brought together thematically the big structural shifts in the retail and healthcare industries that I'd explored as an investor and it led me to reconnect with an old friend who became Capsule's Chief Pharmacist, Sonia Patel.

A close friend loves Sir Francis Drake's motto: Sic Parvis Magna, which translates to "Thus Great Things From Small Things Come." I think most people's lives–personally and professionally–follow that arc and I try to remember it daily.

Why should leaders lead, and when they do lead, what is their first responsibility?

Leaders should lead because they have somewhere worth taking people–whether that's physical (like a place) or figurative (careers, skills). Everything starts with trust and the first responsibility of a leader is to build high trust, emotionally connected relationships with her team.

What is more important to you, the traditional hierarchy (director, manager, the boss, etc) or how teams are formed to get the work done?

I'm naturally averse to hierarchical structures, but have come to appreciate that clear structure is a necessary, but imperfect solution to organizing a large group of people to move forward toward a common goal while rapidly growing. It's always more important to me that we get to the right answer as quickly as possible than figuring out who was responsible for arriving at that answer. 

We all cross the finish line together or not at all–there's nothing in between.

Are you open to the nontraditional ways that teams can get work done? Can you site one example you are currently fostering?

We have a highly diverse team–both at on the individual level and in our role structures. We have software engineers sitting next to our pharmacists and our partnerships team regularly interacts with our operations team. We focus on fostering empathy for each other's work and workstyle–so that together we are enabling our collective best work. We regularly have people from different teams do the day-to-day work as if they were on another team. It builds real empathy across the team and enables us to continuously approach our work with a fresh perspective.

How do you make sure that when you are assessing talent, you are not only identifying the ability to do the job but the talent’s capacity to scale and do more?

The ability for people to scale and do more is a function of two things:

  1. The self-awareness to seek feedback to understand what's required from a skills and experience perspective to scale to the next stage and the gap that exists in current skills and experience between today and that next stage.
  2. The tenacity, desire, and resourcefulness to acquire the experiences and skills to close that gap.

We hire people who are honest with themselves about both where they are today in their careers, where they want to go, and how driven they are to move between the two places. 

All three ingredients are important for an individual to scale: a clear, honest view on current capabilities, a clear understanding of what success looks like at the next step, and a strong desire to close the space between those two things.

In the competitive market of product creation how do you manage your No’s?”

We try and stay focused on the ONE THING that is most important right now. It requires ruthless prioritization and a strong belief that we will eventually get to all of the things we want to do, but that sequentially executing on them one at a time is the best way to succeed. We have spent a lot of time crafting our strategy so that it will unfold on itself as the business progresses—where the sequencing is natural and logical and where accomplishing today’s focused objective very well, will make tomorrow's easier and more impactful.

Shortly, after the launch of Capsule Pharmacy a woman texted the team about 9:00 PM asking, “Is it safe for me to take this medication while I am pregnant? You’re the first person that I am telling I am pregnant. I have not even told my husband that I am pregnant yet.”

At Disrupt NY 2017, Eric explains, “That was a special moment.” He continues, “It was an amazing moment for the team because we really built the right thing.” As a leader, especially in a young company, it can be challenging to build the right thing. Why, because it’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on multiple things.

It takes a competent leader to recognize when the company is diminishing its limited resources by focusing on too many objectives. Kinariwala mentioned in the last question (above), “We try and stay focused on the ONE THING that is most important right now.”

While there is no one strategy in building a successful company, but if there is a cornerstone, it would be to focus on one thing at a time. That is a level of maturity that comes when you have good leadership in place.


Originally Posted: The Huffington Post

Interview with Charles Teague, CEO of Lose It!

According to NBC News, there is an obesity epidemic in America. NBC reports, “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that almost 40 percent of American adults and nearly 20 percent of adolescents are obese — the highest rates ever recorded for the U.S.”

If it was your purpose to help solve the problem of obesity, how would you begin to address the issue? To give some background according to Fortune, “The U.S. weight loss market totaled $64 billion in 2014.” This is an industry where a great deal of money can be made, but on the downside competition is fierce.

Charles Teague’s purpose was not to help solve the problem of obesity. Teague’s story is as ordinary as yours. According to VentureFizz, Teague graduated from Macalester College with a degree in Political Science, and he told the outlet, “I got out and said to myself, What do I do now? What am I going to do for a living?’”

On his quest to help answers those crucial questions Teague found himself working at companies such as Macromedia, Onfolio, General Catalyst, Microsoft and finally joining Lose It! as its CEO in 2008. Where his passion for mobile and intersected with a new found desire — solving the obesity problem. Under Teague’s leadership Lose It! has been able to help 30 million people improve their weight loss. Let’s read on and see how Teague’s leadership strategies have helped Lose It! provide practical solutions for obesity.

So, Charles what’s your story?

I started programming computers when I was 10 years old. First, using a Timex Sinclair 1000 that I bought with my paper route money, later a Commodore 64 and Apple 2. Despite my early exposure to computers and programming, it never occurred to me that this is something that I could or would pursue as a career.

In fact, 12 years later, I graduated from a small Midwestern Liberal Arts college with a degree in political science. My plan was to take a year off from school, then head east to pursue a Ph.D in Political Science or Philosophy. During that year off, I ended up connecting with a fellow alum who had started a company that made software for building a programmable internet.

That was the beginning of my work in technology. I started by answering telephones and providing technical support to customers, and worked my way up to lead development of core products. Some years later, I co-founded Lose It! with that same colleague and have been working to make the company a success ever since.

For my whole career, I’ve been absolutely driven by a desire to bring something new into the world, and to maximize the impact that it has. This is my best way to make the world a better place. I’ve been willing to do nearly any kind of work, work nearly any hours, and work on just about any product, so long as I felt like the impact of my effort would be meaningful and felt by people.

I came to Lose It! in part because I saw an incredible new technology platform in mobile technology pioneered by the iPhone. But the real motivator for my work on Lose It! is the impact that it has on our members. We all know the statistics about obesity and its effects on the world, whether it is premature deaths, sickness, or economic impact in the form of loss of productivity. The idea of making a dent in that is incredibly motivating.

The emails, social media posts, and testimonials we receive from customers help me see the actual people behind these numbers. Reading the stories of our users personalizes that impact even further: like the person diagnosed as pre-diabetic whose health is now improving, the person who now feels more in control of their diet, or the person who has changed the way they eat and exercise for good, passing those positive habits down to the family. It’s that impact, both large in scale yet highly personal, that gets me out of bed every day and has me fired up to get to work!

Why should leaders lead, and when they do lead, what is their first responsibility?

To me, leaders are entrusted to be shepherds of a collective goal. That collective goal might have existed before a leader joins a company, or they might find themselves heavily involved in defining what it is. In the case of a startup, the founders are typically instrumental in laying out this goal and often use it as a rallying cry to attract and retain talented colleagues.

But once a leader steps into a team, it’s their responsibility to keep the team on track to that goal. That means providing the motivation, material support, structure, and guidance for the group. Everything ranging from building the product to directing the effort of others to kicking some people out if they aren’t contributing towards the goal is instrumental in keeping the team on track to achieve the goal at hand.

I’ve found that even when things get tough, people respect and trust a leader who is genuinely driving toward that collective goal, particularly when it is clearly communicated. When you have a greater purpose and can explain all of your decisions to your team by that purpose, it glues the team together.

What is more important to you, the traditional hierarchy (director, manager, the boss, etc) or how teams are formed to get the work done?

At Lose It!, we're very intentionally focused on small teams.

We believe that individuals, using creativity and autonomy can have a huge impact and we're determined to enable this. We favor informal, organic, and flexible practices over rigorous and inflexible processes. We favor individual autonomy and motivation over commands from a hierarchy of leadership. We favor cross-functional skills over narrow or siloed skillsets.

Rather than seeing Lose It! as some sort of machine full of gears that all must mesh perfectly in order to function, I see Lose It! as a living, breathing organism. Lose It! is a beautiful variety of complicated bits and pieces all working together in a really fluid way. This organic approach doesn't always move in a straight line. It sometimes takes a winding path to its destination, but builds incredible resilience along the way.

Are you open to the nontraditional ways that teams can get work done? Can you cite one example you are currently fostering?

The best example of how we incorporate nontraditional methods into our processes at Lose It! is our desk assignment. Every quarter the entire company moves desks chosen completely at random. This means everyone (including the CEO) has an equal shot at the awesome desk by the window, or the not-so-awesome spot near the back closet. This frequent, random reorganization of our office has helped us maintain our core values even as we’ve grown.

One of those values is the idea of ‘player coaches’; that while we are each playing different roles in the company, we are all needed to succeed. If we’re all players and coaches, we all have a spot in the locker room. We all roll up our sleeves and do what needs to be done.

This type of seating arrangement also improves organic, informal communication in the company. Because we are purposely small and organic, we rely on very strong individual communication among employees. This random distribution of desks encourages strong communication because employees are constantly getting the chance to work next to someone new. By sharing space with others, you get to know them better, you get to hear and see what they work on, and you develop relationships that foster trust.

How do you make sure that when you are assessing talent, you are not only identifying the ability to do the job but the talent’s capacity to scale and do more?

This is one of the key attributes we look for in potential employee candidates. Since we have such a non-hierarchical organization structure, we’re much more interested in getting the best people rather than people to do specific jobs. We tend to hire the ‘best player available’ instead of the ‘best at that position’.

To do this, our interview process is focused on elements of both talent and collaboration. We typically ask prospective employees to solve a problem independently. The actual problem differs for each part of the company, but each one gives us a sense of the candidate’s critical thinking and problem solving skills.

We also have group interviews where we work collectively through a problem to understand what it will be like to work with this person. We round out the consideration process by asking references about the candidate's skill set and growth in their last organization.

In the competitive market of product development how do you manage your “No’s?”

At the beginning of each year, we set 3-4 high level goals that we want to achieve as a company. As a team, we make a prioritized list of all of the work that we think will best actualize these goals. As other potential projects come up throughout the year, we use this shared framework to analyze the work that we decide to do; we say ‘no’ to anything that won’t advance one of those key goals. Keeping a commitment to these goals throughout the year helps keep the team aligned and motivated on a daily basis. We also actively try not to keep a list of ideas or projects to work on; we’ve found that good ideas will keep coming up over time.

According to Dr. John Maxwell, “Everything rises and falls on leadership," he continues, "but knowing how to lead is only half the battle.” What is the other half of the equation your wondering — execution.

You can read Charles Teague’s entire interview, take copious notes, red team the strategies but unless you are committed to making those ideas happen your team will never be effective. In all honesty, there are only two states that a leader can occupy — effective and ineffective. As a leader, your decision is which state you will occupy? That decision will have a massive impact on your success as a leader.

Today Lose It! boasts over 24 million members and Teague’s mission is to not only disrupt the weight loss market but to add features that the community will allow for massive value, some of those features include — track your food and exercise, track weight loss progress, meal planning, custom challenges and detailed insights. It’s clear that Teague’s singular purpose is to help solve the obesity epidemic, but it’s his leadership that has allowed Lose It! to be effective in helping its members lose over 60 million pounds.


Orginally Posted: The Huffington Post